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Decolonising Design Education

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Pratt administration loves to harp on the basis our foundation year has in the Bauhaus model of education, following the philosophy that an artist begins their studies by learning from a diverse range of topics in order to draw from that bank of knowledge within their specialized fields and create a richer body of work. This pedagogical model was part of the Bauhaus ideology, conceived almost 100 years ago, but has not been changed significantly since, and it reflects in the relatively limited range of content we students end up being exposed to.

During our years at Pratt, classes have covered no range of work as thoroughly as that of the European and American traditions. From our first art history surveys and literature classes to our major-specific studios, we hear about Gauguin, Chip Kidd, Charles and Ray Eames, Hemingway, but processes outside of a Western context are largely glossed over or discussed in terms of relativity to the West, even when most of these cultures arrive from vastly different material realities and visual canons. Students “play” with various cultural aesthetics with little contextual understanding and end up producing work that is not only insulting and disrespectful, but work that doesn’t accurately convey any of the principles behind minority design conventions.

How can this institution claim to educate students in a diverse manner if we (both students and staff) are not exploring the abundant aesthetic traditions that exist, as well as examining considered and appropriate methods of research and discourse? We attend one of the most prestigious art and design schools in the world, yet we fail to approach our craft from unique perspectives. Next time you embark on a project, evaluate the appropriate visual cues, and try to treat them in a non-colonial, non-minimizing manner. Consider how to incorporate, and not appropriate, external design principles into your own work.

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Image by Hua Chen

written by
Hua Chen and Paige Havener
January 5, 2018